With a decade in Silicon Valley under her belt, Jennifer Zanich knows her way around startup culture, entrepreneurship and venture capital.
She has recently started a role as head of Global Partnerships and Ecosystems, in the Department of Entrepreneurship, at the University of New South Wales, where she designed and led programs like the Founders 10X Accelerator, which identifies high potential startups within the University environment.
“UNSW has had an entrepreneurship initiative for the last five years,” she said. “We have a clear picture for everyone, staff and students, to embed the entrepreneur mindset in their learning and day to day.”
The idea behind embedding these values within staff and students is that the techniques used, such as problem-solving, resilience and the use of frameworks have value for everyone within the learning environment.
With the Founders 10X Accelerator, the University runs a ten week program for high-potential companies within the university. According to Ms Zanich, they’ve so far had unique ideas such as wearable technology in the form of a motorcycle helmet that improves rider reaction time, an asteroid prospecting company that looks for viable mineral reserves in space, and a domestic service designed to give parents back valuable me-time.
“When it comes to startups and entrepreneurship, we’re looking at it from both the domestic perspective, and the global perspective,” she said.
From a domestic point of view, the program is looking at how the university participates in the local startup ecosystem, and what sort of corporate partnerships should be involved. Microsoft is already on board as a partner in the Founder Lab program.
From a global perspective, the university is working with other international educational institutions and venture capital firms. A partnership has been developed with Berkley University in the US, with the international entrepreneurship program, designed to give startups with international aspirations a ‘soft landing’ when they arrive.
“These partnerships ensure the startups get the benefits of being in an international environment, and they’re not just stumbling around,” she said.
Jobs and innovation for the future
The entrepreneurship mindset that UNSW wants to instill in staff and students has a broader application to the Australian economy, and in particular to the future of jobs.
Ms Zanich said that there needed to be a change in the nature of the conversation around jobs in Australia, particularly with the rise of digitisation, automation and machine intelligence.
“There needs to be some leadership here, and a change in the dialogue,” she said. “[Governments] need to discuss the changing nature of jobs, and not lead with the rhetoric around jobs are going to be lost.”
We already know the workforce is morphing rapidly, she said, and that as students graduate there’s going to be a different workforce. This workforce is one where jobs for life don’t exist, and people could have three jobs in a week, let alone in the course of a decade.
“As a nation, we still don’t have any real vision about that,” she observed.
This is why an entrepreneurial outlook is vital for Australians, because those people with that view will be able to adapt and learn, and adjust to the jobs that are coming in the future.
“Right now the government has some focus in digital initiatives, such as promoting STEM, but the piece that is missing is the entrepreneurial skills, the softer skills and the founder focus,” she said.
“We need to cater for the next generation, and deliver students with the experience and abilities to determine, or create their own career outcome.”
Those people with an entrepreneurial mindset will go on to found start-ups, which are an increasingly valuable part of the economy, or become great leaders in industry.
“The debate needs to be lifted to the top levels of the country,” she said. “The focus on technology and innovation is absolutely vital for the ongoing prosperity of this country.”
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